Dominik Opatrny, «The Figure of a Blind Man in the Light of the Papyrological Evidence», Vol. 91 (2010) 583-594
This article presents the status of a blind man in ancient society. There are three characteristics often associated with blind persons in the Bible: anonymity, passivity and beggary. The aim of this study is to confront these characteristics with the evidence found in Greek papyri. The author discusses both similar and opposite cases and comes to a more detailed conclusion on the situation of these people.
The figure of a blind man in the light
of the papyrological evidence*
Although the importance of papyrology for New Testament research is
generally accepted today, the use of ancient documentary papyri, even if
the first three commentaries have been already published in the series
Papyrologische Kommentare zum Neuen Testament 1, is still not as popular
in biblical commentaries as that of Jewish and Hellenistic literature. In
this study, I would like in some way to fill this gap, focusing on the way
in which the papyrological evidence illustrates the figure of a blind man 2.
This study focuses on the historical and cultural context of the Bible,
and so it uses social science criticism, the approach which focused origi-
nally on three main groups: the elite, slaves and women, but since 1980 the
interest has also extended to marginal groups (Randgruppen) 3 of which
blind persons are an example. When the Bible refers to them, three charac-
teristics are often present or implied: 1. he has no name (nearly all except
Bartimaeus in Mark 10,46-52), 2. he acts (during the healing process of a
miracle) passively (Matt 12,22-23; 15,30-31; Mark 2,22-26; John 9,1-7) and
3. he is a beggar (explicitly stated in Mark 10,46-52; Luke 18,35 and John
9,8). In what follows we will try to illustrate these characteristics and their
relationship to the blindness using the evidence of the documentary papyri 4.
* This paper is published with the support of the IGA foundation of Palac-
ky University in Olomouc, Czech Republic, project nr. 436100014.
P. ARZT-GRABNER, Philemon (Papyrologische Kommentare zum Neuen
Testament 1; GÃ¶ttingen 2003), P. ARZT-GRABNER â€“ R.E. KRITZER â€“ A. PA-
PATHOMAS â€“ F. WINTER, 1. Korinther (Papyrologische Kommentare zum Neuen
Testament 2; GÃ¶ttingen 2006), C. KREINECKER, 2. Thessaloniker (Papyrologi-
sche Kommentare zum Neuen Testament 3; GÃ¶ttingen 2010). For details see
â€œ Pa p y r o l o g i s c h e Kommentare zum Neuen Testament (PKNT)â€, h t t p : / /
www.uni-salzburg.at/bwkg/pknt (cited 10th May 2010).
In this paper I will focus mainly on blind men, but because the situation
of blind women was to a great extent different its description would go beyond
the scope of this study.
Cf. H. GRASSL, â€œGrundsÃ¤tzliches und Methodisches zur historischen
Randgruppenforschung â€, Soziale Randgruppen und AuÃŸenseiter im Altertum.
Referate vom Symposion â€˜Soziale Randgruppen und antike Sozialpolitikâ€™ in
Graz, 21.-23. 9. 1987 (eds. I. WEILER â€“ H. GRASSL) (Graz 1988) 41.
Among those â€œpapyriâ€ I also include writing on other materials (namely